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Cancer Survivors' Mental Health is Important Too

By Expert HERWriter
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Mental Health of Cancer Survivors is Important Too Todd Arena/PhotoSpin

One of the most frightening conversations you may ever have with your doctor is the one where you hear that you've been diagnosed with cancer.

This can be especially traumatizing if you are not experiencing symptoms. One minute, you think you are healthy and the next, you are faced with thoughts of your mortality. Beyond the diagnosis, there is the treatment that is generally filled with doctor’s appointment and hospital visits.

Emotionally, the entire process leaves you with moments of feeling vulnerable, helpless, angry, overwhelmed, confused, or all of the above. This feeling can ripple through your circle of friends and family as well.

After weeks and months of going through treatment you get the fantastic news that your cancer is gone! It is all over and you can go back to your normal life.

So do you just forget about everything that you went through and simply go back to your normal life?


The memories associated with handling a life-threatening diagnosis don’t just go away. So it is important that in addition to all of your medical doctor appointments, you need to get mental and emotional help and support as well.

If you don't the memories, thoughts and fears about your well-being can impact your health long after your tumor has been eliminated.

If you are like most people, then you may not be aware that some cancer patients suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after hearing their cancer diagnosis.

PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Persistent mental and emotional stress occurs as a result of severe psychological shock.

This mental and emotional stress releases hormones and other chemicals in the body that impact blood pressure, heart rate, liver function, and alertness, along with other bodily functions, each time the event is relived.

Some of the symptoms involve sleep disturbances and constant vivid recall of the experience, and dulled emotional responses to others.

Symptoms more specific to cancer patients include flashbacks, uncontrolled thoughts about cancer, severe anxiety, nightmares or feeling emotionally muted towards friends and family members.

Research from Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina studied almost 600 survivors of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Over 50 percent of patients didn’t have PTSD symptoms 13 years into their remission. Over 30 percent still experienced some PTSD 10 years after completing treatment. A small percentage of about 8 percent of patients experienced full-blown PTSD.

One solution for patients that experience one or more symptoms of PTSD is guided imagery. Guided imagery has been well researched to help reduce effects of PTSD in cancer patients.

Guided imagery allows patients to have control over their thoughts about their diagnosis. They are able to practice changing their thoughts about this stressful medical situation.

It allows them to change their thoughts patterns about their health. As they change their stressful thoughts they will actually reduce the hormones and chemicals released in their body.

This reduces the physical symptoms like anxiety attacks, high blood pressure, or depressive thoughts. Using guided imagery along with counseling during and after initial treatment can reduce PTSD and allow patients to have a healthy recovery, body and mind.

One of the greatest things about being a naturopathic doctor is helping patients understand how to use mind-body techniques along with conventional treatments.

I work with patients to help them heal their mind and body for chronic illnesses like diabetes, pre-diabetes, hormonal imbalances, obesity, metabolic disorders and adjunctive cancer treatments.

You can purchase a copy of Dr. Dae’s latest book Eat, More Plants by going to her website, www.HealthyDaes.com.


Kolcaba, K., & Fox, C. (1999). The effects of guided imagery on comfort of women with early stage breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy. Oncology Nursing Forum. 26:67-72.

" Many cancer survivors struggle with trauma stress: study| Reuters." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Reviewed October 22, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Cancer, flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.